Sunrise gilds the Utah desert and tints the far mountains a dusky rose. My curtains open all night, I wake slowly, watching faint tracks winding to a spill of water, another shelf of tumbleweed and scrub, the hawk motionlessly surveying all…
And then I wake suddenly. Zephyr! What are we going to do? It’s not like we ever came up with a rescue plan. And how long till Grand Junction?
I scarf my breakfast, and hurry to the lounge car, but of course, despite confused dreams of cats and conductors, neither of us has any new ideas. The rest of the cat crew still asleep, we decide that all we can do when we get there is act as independent observers, play it by ear.
“And if we have to, somehow save her.” We both sigh. Yes, somehow.
The Book Cliffs…
And then the endless rail yards that mean we’re there.
Detraining, my fellow cat champion from coach and I from sleeper, we scan for Humane Society officers, head toward the crew car. Now what?
The first conductor we ask seems, strangely, to know nothing about a cat. Not good. But the second has excellent news. “The stationmaster here decided to take her home.”
He’s going by right now, in fact, Zephyr’s carrier balanced on the seat next to him in the cart.
“That’s so great!”
Before long, the whole cat crew has converged in the station to say their goodbyes.
From the receiver of the station phone as the stationmaster holds it away from his head: “You are NOT bringing another cat home!”
Oh. Fifteen minutes till departure. We all look sadly at each other, then back at the sleeping cat.
It’s another crew change, apparently, Salt Lake City engineers heading toward their rides, and new ones arriving. A conductor checks in at the wicket, and as we study her, it’s as if we’ve been inspired en masse.
Zephyr is lifted out of her carrier. “Did you hear about her yet? Look at how sweet…”
“With us since California!”
“Isn’t she gorgeous?”
Conductor Spaulding leans in closer. “She certainly is a pretty one.”
“We named her Zephyr.” I think we’re all holding our breath.
“Maybe when I get back from this run, I can ask around for a friend who could take her.”
But in the meantime?!
She continues to pat her. “Or at least get her to a no-kill shelter.”
Not a happy ending after all? But then as if by miracle, the cat finds her way into the conductor’s arms just as a quick-thinking fan says, “Right, so, we named her Zephyr Spaulding.”
Time slows down, then speeds up, and when the whistle suddenly sounds, Conductor Spaulding carefully sets Zephyr back in her carrier. “Okay, I’m crazy but I’m going to keep her. Ready to go, girl?”
Zephyr Spaulding closes her eyes and seems to smile as she boards her namesake once again, for Nebraska, Iowa and parts east…